Monday, November 23, 2015

From the Indus to the Nubra Valley across Lasermo La - Part II

The top of the pass Lasermo La
Phyang to Hundar Trek Part II

A South Col team trekked from Phyang to Hundar in September 2015. The detailed trek notes for the first part of the trek was covered in my blog post last week in this link
The his is the second and concluding part.

September 5th 2015
We had planned to start at 6 am for the pass but when I woke up at around 4 am it was snowing lightly. The sky was also very misty with the clouds scudding across the moon. We finally left around 7 15 am when the snow had eased off and the sun was coming through the clouds.

 The trail as usual was difficult to find and there was some scrambling across boulders until we found a path of sorts which followed the valley to the bottom of the pass which we reached around 11 am. We passed some splendid blue flowers amidst the crags nestling below the snow.

From the bottom the trail climbed steeply to the first ridge in about half an hour and then climbed through a series of zig zags reaching the top of the pass around 12 15 pm.  I had brought a prayer flag which we tied across the pass and then along with Pema and Passang  two of our support team we built a small cairn in memory of my mother in law who had passed away a few months before – It was a  high and remote spot;  a stairway to heaven.

The rest of our group arrived in dribs and drabs the last member reaching at around 2 pm. We took the group photos and then headed down across a glacier which took us about 45 minutes to traverse.  From the glacier the path descended onto rocks and again navigating the way became very difficult. The descent seemed never ending and finally we reached the north base camp of Lasermo around 5 pm in the evening. Our last member came in at around 6 45 pm just as the light was fading from the sky. It had been a long and difficult day.

Lasermo La Pass 5474m - 34 18 24 N - 77 29 9 E. Lasermo La North Base Camp 4968m - 34 20 42 N - 77 28 37E

September 6th 2015

I woke up at around 5 am to the pitter patter of snow on the tent. It had been a cold night; the altitude of the North base camp was around 4800 metres where we had camped. The snow continued till around 8 am and we were only able to get away around 8 30 am when the snow eased off and the sun came out. The first hour of the walk was difficult as the trail was snowed over and we had to find it amidst the rocks. After this the sun came up and the valley opened up and we followed a beautiful trail through meadows with grass and flowers.

We spotted a herd of yaks high on the hillside grazing near a rocky outcrop.  We stopped for lunch around 1 pm and must have covered at least 10 km. after lunch we reached a grazing station where we met the first person since leaving the village of Norudok. He was spending the summer grazing yaks on the high meadows which we had just passed and would go down by September 15th. After this the trail continued to traverse through rocks and boulders until around 3 30 pm when we suddenly saw our camp site well before the village of Hundar Dok. We reached around 4 30 pm.
Camp above Hundar Drok 4278m - 34 28 4 N - 77 26 29 E

September 7th 2015
The morning was clear and still- the night temperature was above zero and there was no snow or rain that day.
 The valley to the west had a number of interesting rock peaks in the 5500 to 6000 metre range which would make interesting climbing for a small group. We left the camp around 8 10 am and walked down the valley at a leisurely pace and reached the village of Hundar Drok in around 40 minutes.  The villagers were busy harvesting the fields and ripe barley had turned the fields a beautiful shade of gold.

 We spent an hour photographing in and around the village and left Hundar Drok at around 10 am. The trail carried down to the river which we crossed on a rickety log bridge and then climbed up to the opposite bank. We then took a narrow foot path going north along a bubbling stream of crystal clear water. As we walked north we could see in front of us on the other bank three white chortens and a few houses with a path leading up to them from the river which could be heard but not seen from this point. We went down from the main trail and found a path which took us down to the river in a series of sharp switchbacks. The river was crossed again on another rickety log bridge from where we climbed up for about 20 minutes to meet the three white chortens which we had seen from the other side. The time was around 12 noon and it had taken us 2 hours. We walked on and within a few minutes reached the new jeep able road which had just been built to connect to Hundar. We walked straight down on this new road and in about two hours reached the camping site of Skarchen. The trail had a lot of Tibetan snow cocks on the crags above and we could hear their constant calls as we walked. Fit Trekkers could cover the next two to three hours to Hundar the same day. Skarchen could be identified by some abandoned houses built next to the road and near a small concrete bridge.

Hundar Drok 4066m - 34 29 35 N - 77 26 1 E Skarchen 3573m - 34 32 9 N - 77 25 55 E

September 8th 2015
We had a late breakfast and left Skarchan at around 9 am. The pickup vehicle for the crew and the kitchen equipment had arrived and we left them to load up all the equipment in the pickup. The trail followed the gorge of the Hundar nala where the road had been blasted through the gorge. The colours of the rock were also spectacular - brown, ochre, grey, silver and jet black. The river thundered through the gorge below icy grey green flowing over the rocks. The walk to Hunder took around two hours and we reached the road by around 11 am. The ponies had not yet arrived so we waited for them as our Tempo Traveller had already arrived. I realised that a fit trekking team could make it from Hundar Dok to Hunder in one long day. The distance would be around 15 km.  We stopped for the night at the campsite of Sumur on the other end of the valley.

Sumur 3105m - 34 36 20 N- 77 36 35E

Sunday, November 15, 2015

From the Indus to the Nubra Valley across Lasermo La - Part I

Phyang to Hundar Trek 

South Col Expeditions trekked this route in September 2015. This is the detailed trek notes of the route.

September 3 2015
I was ready by 7 am and had an early breakfast at the German Bakery. I suddenly remembered that we had forgotten to buy the soup so I went to the provision store opposite the hotel and picked up eighteen packets. South Col had a big group this time eleven trekkers! We went to Hotel Omasila to collect the group and then reached Phyang around 10 am.

We found a spanking new monastery there in the typical modern style - the old one next to it was closed for renovation.

We started walking from opposite the Phyang school at around 10 20 am. The walk was on the motorable road as landslides had wrecked the old walking trail to Phyang Phu. In about 45 minutes we reached a T junction which said Mountain Madness camp 4 km (obviously no relation to Scott Fischer’s company!). We took the left fork and in about an hour from there reached a spot where a landslide had broken the road completely. We went down to the river following a steep path next to a chorten and then had to make another steep climb back to the road clambering over boulders. The road continued to climb steadily and eventually reached the village of Nurudok around 1 15 pm where we stopped for lunch.

Our progress was not very good and Stanzin our sirdar was not keen to carry on to Phyang Phu which he said was still three hours away. There is a camping ground half an hour ahead of the village and we decided to camp there. Reaching the camp we found a fast flowing stream which we had to cross.

We walked up and down across boulders looking for a suitable crossing. Finally Karuna ventured across and slipped into the water. We then decided to take off our boots and cross. The rocks were extremely slippery and somehow using a trekking pole as support from the other side we managed to make it. These heroics took us the better part of one hour and we reached the camp close to 4 30 pm.

Tomorrow we would have a longer day as we needed to make up the two hours lost today. The camp site has a good view of the valley and Stok Kangri peak.
Phyang School to T junction 45 min; T junction to landslide spot 1 hour ; Landslide spot to Nurudok village 1 hr 15 min;  Nurudok  village to Nurudok camp 30 min without river crossing with river crossing 1 hr.

Leh  3519 m - 34 9 57 N - 77 35 2 E; Phyang 3500m - 34 11 8 N - 77 29 10 E; Nurudok Village 4037m - 34 13 37 N - 77 30 54 E; Nurudok Camp site 4149m - 34 14 12 N - 77 31 22 E

September 4 2015
The night sky was studded with stars and we saw the Milky Way quite clearly which I photographed with our tents in the foreground. The night was also not very cold and I slept quite well in the new Mountainsmith Morrison tent.

 I was up quite early and was ready to depart at 7 am. We had breakfast and left around 8 15 am.  Within a few minutes of walking we saw a Tibetan gazelle sprint across the trail and gained a hilltop and watched us intently from the top. We followed the trail on the right bank of the river but had been informed that we would have to cross the river. We came down to the river again and spent around 30 minutes trying to find a crossing point but in vain. Stanzin then decided that we would walk all the way upstream and then cross. The trail on the right bank was nonexistent in parts and we had a hard time trying to get across boulders. We climbed around 4000 metres at 12 15 pm and reached a spot where two streams met and we were able to cross one of the streams without getting into the water.  We then stopped by a beautiful grassy flat next to the river and lazed in the sun for about 20 minutes. It was an idyllic spot ideal for a camp site for a small group. As we waited there we saw all our ponies coming down the left bank of the river on the high trail. They had crossed the river at the camp and had taken the high route avoiding all the boulder crossing. They crossed the shallow stream and started climbing up the opposite hill following a rough trail.

 We decided to follow them in the hope of finding the main trail to the pass. We were rewarded as after the climb and 15 minutes further on we found the trail with a sign on a rock saying "Way to Nubra”. Enthused at finally having found the trail we carried on for another half hour before stopping for lunch at around 1 10 pm on a grassy meadow. We must have been around 4400 metres around 500 metres above our last camp. We left around 1. 45pm and the trail continued to climb up the valley. In parts there was landslide debris and we had to take detours to cross and come back to the main trail.   The going had also slowed down as our group of five was now tired and also feeling the effect of the altitude. The trail crossed some moraine debris and then entered a grassy meadow where we found our horses grazing. The camp must be nearby. Suddenly looking down I spotted two Bharal coming down the hillside at tremendous speed. They literally flew across the river and climbed up the other hillside and joined a herd of around twenty animals that were grazing high up among the rocks merging beautifully with the hillside.
Lasermo south base camp 4910m - 34 16 50 N - 77 30 10 E

.....To be continued next week at

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Rebuilding the Villages of Kaule and Bhangeri - III

The Kaule Prototype

April - May 2015 
Recce visit 
In May 2015 Sujoy Das, and Sharan Lal, both from Kolkata, visited Kaule and Bhangeri - villages in Nuwakot District and home to South Col’s friends, porters and guides – Santaman, Shyam, Sushil – among others. 

In this trip, corrugated Zinc Sheets donated by the trekking community from South Col Expeditions and Sujoy’s friends and contacts were distributed among the villagers. The sheets provided temporary relief to the villagers and has seen them through the monsoon season.

June 2015
Design of a House
On their return from Kaule and Bhangeri, realizing the need for design intervention, Sharan Lal set up a small group of email friends and worked on a design of a prototype house with the intention of helping the villages to re-construct their village in a an appropriate manner. The design would seek to resist inappropriate construction materials and technologies - like Reinforced Concrete – that threaten to obliterate the invaluable vernacular building traditions and community wisdom that the villages of Kaule and Bhangeri possess, and have take generations to acquire, nurture, and preserve.  

The draft concept design (video) developed with this brief after the May 2015 recce visit can be seen here:

July 2015
Prototype for re-construction 
The draft design received a good response, and we decided to:
a. build a prototype for a house in Kaule that is built using traditional building materials and techniques, and caters to requirements of a seismically secure structure as per the Nepal Building Codes. 
b. Conduct a Training Workshop for the villages' masons, carpenters, and other artisans to empower them with necessary skills for making the prototype, and by extension their own houses in the future under our guidance.

September 26 – Oct 5, 2015
Pre-training recce and village survey 

A pre-training recce trip was carried out in September 2015 – soon after the monsoon - when the villages of Kaule and Bhangeri were observed more closely, and some basic measurements. Apart from this, the villagers were photographed, and their basic family data studied. A report on the September trip can be viewed here:

October 26 – November 3 ,2015
Skills training
A six day hands-on training and workshop for the villages of Kaule and Bhangeri is planned from Oct 26 onwards in the Kaule School compound. The training aims to make villagers aware of the properties of traditional materials and techniques used in construction - bamboo, stone, mud, and timber - and to empower them to use these in ways that would make their structures seismically less vulnerable. 

December 2015 Onwards
Construction of the Prototype
The prototype for a typical house will be constructed by the villagers under our supervision over a period of 2-3 months. The exact dates for these are yet to be finalized depending on availability of funds and resources for the same.

Reconstruction and rehabilitation of Kaule and Bhangeri
The lessons learnt in the construction of the prototype will be used to prepare a detailed plan for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the villages of Kaule and Bhangeri.  The plan includes incorporation of concepts like Community Forestry, Solar Micro grids for electricity generation, ulitisation of Boi-mass for energy and long-term, sustainable income generation schemes utilizing the natural and tourism potential of the villages. A consortium of professionals will be formed as an SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) to take this stage forward. A report on the Prototype process and village planning and design is being prepared by Sharan and the same will be presented to an international agency for funding support. 

The Kaule Protoype Team

The people who have been working on the project till now are:

 Ashish Sharan Lal, Architect, Alleya and Associates, Kolkata, India 
Team leader

 Sujoy Das, South Col Expeditions, Kolkata, India
Group mentor

Santaman Tamang, Tour operator, Kaule, Nepal
Village Representative and Local Support

Ajmal Shoban, Retired edical professional, Virginia, U.S.A. 
Donor Representative

Hanif Barma, Finance Professional, London UK  
Donor Representative
Archana Hande, Artist, Mumbai, India
Photographic documentation, Administration and Accounts 

Vivek Rawal, Architect, Ahmedabad, india
Technical Mentor and resource person

Areen Attari, Architect, Mumbai, India

Training and Workshop resource person  Manu Narendran, Engineer, Ahmedabad  Training and Workshop resource person
Pradeep Humagain, Electrical Engineer, Gham Power, Kathmandu Nepal 


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